Billie Sol Estes

From Academic Kids

Billie Sol Estes (b. 1924, Abilene, Texas) was a Texas-based financier who was convicted of mail and mortgage fraud for having swindled many investors, banks and the federal government out of at least twenty-four million dollars through false agricultural subsidy claims on cotton production and the use of non-existent supplies of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer as collateral for loans.

After marrying in 1946 he moved to the small town of Pecos where he founded his first business selling irrigation pumps powered by cheap natural gas (rather than electricity, which was more expensive). He used the profits to start another successful business selling anhydrous ammonia fertilizer.

In the late 1950s the US Department of Agriculture began controlling the price of cotton, specifying quotas to farmers in order to maintain a steady price. This limited overall production and Estes' businesses suffered. He responded by expanding into cotton production himself. Over the next few years he developed a massive fraud, claiming to grow and store cotton that never existed. Some critics have asserted Estes bribed Texas politican and future president Lyndon Baines Johnson with political contributions as a part of this scheme. The contributions are documented but Johnson denied the bribery charges and was never prosecuted.

On June 3, 1961, Estes' contact at the Department of Agriculture, Henry Marshall, was found dead as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from a hose attached to the exhaust pipe of his car. The death was ruled a suicide, but rumours circulated that Marshall had been killed because he was aware of Estes' scam. On April 4, 1962 Estes' accountant, George Krutilek, was also found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. Krutilek had been questioned by the FBI about Estes the day before.

On April 5, 1962, Estes and several business associates were indicted by a federal grand jury on 57 counts of fraud. Two of them, Harold Orr and Coleman Wade, died before the case came to trial in October. Estes was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to eight years in prison. He was eventually found guilty of additional federal charges and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. As a result of the scandal, president John F. Kennedy apparently began considering dropping Johnson as his running mate in the 1964 election.

As a result of the ensuing congressional investigation and findings, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created one of the first Offices of Inspector General, which, in concert with Nixon-era corruption in U.S. government, led to the IG Act of 1978, legislating the first 12 federal Offices of Inspectors General.

Estes later claimed Johnson was involved in a conspiracy to murder witnesses in the Estes trial and that this conspiracy was related to the Kennedy assassination. In 1984 Estes' lawyer Douglas Caddy wrote to the Department of Justice claiming that Estes, Lyndon B. Johnson, Mac Wallace and Cliff Carter had been involved in the murders of Henry Marshall, George Krutilek, Harold Orr, Ike Rogers, Coleman Wade, Josefa Johnson, John Kinser and John F. Kennedy. Caddy added, "Mr. Estes is willing to testify that LBJ ordered these killings, and that he transmitted his orders through Cliff Carter to Mac Wallace, who executed the murders."

Other critics suggest Estes' claims of his involvement in a wide conspiracy involving mass murder and political assassination were motivated largely by the desire of a convicted felon to deflect responsibility for his own criminal behavior, and later as a means of generating publicity for the purpose of selling a book he had written.


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